ERIE, Pa. — The Penn State Behrend STEAM Fair — a K-12-focused science-and-tech open house — returns to Junker Center on Monday, March 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The program, which is free and open to the public, will feature laser scanners, air cannons, a railway simulation and a virtual-reality symphony.
“We try to make it fun, entertaining and engaging,” said Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach and the Engineering K-12 Outreach Center. “When families are here and having fun, the educational component slips right in behind that.”
This year’s program will include exhibits and activities led by corporate and community partners, including Parker LORD, Plastikos, TechnipFMC, the Bayfront Maritime Center and the Magee-Womens Research Institute in Erie. Wabtec and WQLN Public Media sponsor the event.
The program also showcases some of Behrend’s STEAM-themed research labs, including the Virtual/Augmented Reality Lab and the Innovation Commons, a rapid-prototyping and product-design space. Student-run organizations contribute, too: Nursing students will bring a simulation mannequin that helps them prepare for real-patient interactions.
“There’s something for kids of all ages, including the parents,” Ford said.
The STEAM Fair is the college’s largest K-12 outreach program with community groups and corporate partners. More than 1,500 people attended the 2020 fair — the last Behrend program of that scale before the pandemic.
Ford said she is eager to return to the in-person format. The best way to ignite a child’s interest in science, technology and mathematics, she said, is through hands-on educational play: LEGO robots, dry-ice bubbles, green-screen animations and 3D doodles.
“You can do more than one thing with a degree, and there’s always more than one path to get there,” she said. “This is a way for us to show how much is out there, in terms of STEAM-related careers, and get kids on a path that feels right to them.”
Assistant director, news and information, Penn State Behrend